It’s All in Your Perspective

By Kristen Ann Coulas

To quote Aminata Diallo from Lawrence Hill’s award-winning novel, The Book of Negroes: “When it comes to understanding others, we rarely tax our imaginations.” I’m sure most of us would agree this is a fair point. Even when we try to imagine the perspectives of others, it can be difficult to wrap our heads around concepts we haven’t experienced or don’t understand. That is why it’s so valuable to have literature from a rich and diverse variety of people.

Through the magic of immersing ourselves in the worlds created by authors, we gain the ability to see our own world through different lenses. Suddenly, our views gain new depth and nuances. By expanding our views of the world, we enrich ourselves and become better friends and neighbours.

Here are a few recent works from authors who have added their perspectives to Canada’s National Collection.

Non-Fiction

I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David John Chariandy

ISBN: 978-0-771018-07-7

The son of black and South Asian migrants from Trinidad, David Chariandy takes a break from his award-winning fiction to draw upon his personal and ancestral past. In this touching non-fiction work dedicated to his daughter, Chariandy talks about navigating and cultivating a sense of identity in Canada.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott

ISBN: 978-0-385692-38-0

Tuscarora writer Alicia Elliott is a bold and visceral author. Drawing on intimate details from her own life and her experience with intergenerational trauma, Elliot’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground offers unique insight. In this book, Elliot examines every aspect of life, asks tough questions and touches on topics like the ongoing legacy of colonialism.

Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

ISBN: 978-1-443417-97-6

Mark Sakamoto’s memoir details his journey to forgiving his mother, who suffered from alcoholism. By inviting readers into his family’s past, starting with his grandfather’s experience as a Canadian POW held by the Japanese army and his grandmother’s experience as an internee – born in Canada of Japanese ancestry – held by the Government of Canada during during the Second World War. Sakamoto discovers a common thread of forgiveness and traces how it led to his very existence. A winner of Canada Reads 2018, Forgiveness is a family’s history understood.

Étienne Boulay, le parcours d’un battant by Marc-André Chabot

ISBN: 978-2-764812-82-2

Marc-André Chabot’s recent work describes his long-time friend Étienne Boulay’s tortuous journey as he battled addiction. However, this is far from a book on addiction. It’s an honest look at how Boulay’s life shaped the man he is today and shows the importance of having a strong team around you.

Poetry

heft by Doyali Islam

ISBN: 978-0-771005-59-6

Prizewinning poet Doyali Islam’s second book, heft, is lyrical and innovative and includes works done in her original “parallel poem” style. This compilation includes works published by the Kenyon Review Online and The Fiddlehead, as well as poems that won national contests and prizes.

This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt

ISBN: 978-1-927823-64-4

Billy-Ray Belcourt is an award-winning poet and CBC Books named him as one of six Indigenous writers to watch in 2016. In this stunning compilation, Belcourt brilliantly navigates themes of queerness, desire and survival. This Wound is a World won the 2018 Griffin Award for Excellence in Poetry as well as the 2018 Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize.

Fiction

Things Are Good Now by Djamila Ibrahim

ISBN: 978-1-487001-88-9

Things are Good Now is the debut collection of short stories by Djamila Ibrahim, an Ethiopian-born writer who moved to Canada in 1990. Ibrahim examines themes like remorse, race, hope, friendship, human relationships and the power of memory through the lens of the immigrant experience. Engaging and poignant, each story has an authenticity that belies its fictional status.

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

ISBN: 978-1-481499-24-8

Saints and Misfits is an empowering coming-of-age story told through the lens of a teenage Muslim girl. This young adult novel tackles real and difficult issues like sexual assault and abuse of power while also exploring teenage anxiety and identity. S.K. Ali’s debut novel is full of faith and devotion and worthy of its position on the longlist for Canada Reads 2018.

Thelma, Louise et moi by Martine Delvaux

ISBN: 978-2-924666-55-5

In this striking French language portrait of feminism, Martine Delvaux examines the influence of the film Thelma and Louise. Through film anecdotes and personal reflections, Delvaux contemplates how her view of the film changes. This work reminds us of how important it can be to reclaim ourselves when facing a society ready to make us self-doubt.

Children’s Books

Takannaaluk by Herve Paniaq and illustrated by Germaine Arnaktauyok

ISBN: 978-1-772271-81-2

This gorgeous picture book tells the origin story of Takannaaluk, the mother of sea mammals and the most important being in Inuit mythology. Respected elder Herve Paniaq’s vivid storytelling comes to life through the work of acclaimed Inuit artist Germaine Arnaktauyok.

To borrow these books, visit your local library or search Library and Archives Canada’s new catalogue Aurora.


Kristen Ann Coulas is an acquisitions librarian at Library and Archives Canada

A.P. Low and the Many Words of Love in Inuit Culture

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Heather Campbell

Albert Peter Low was a geologist and explorer, whose expeditions to Quebec and Labrador from 1893 to 1895 assisted in the creation of their borders. Low mapped the interior of Labrador and discovered large iron deposits, which later lead to the development of the iron mine at what is now Labrador City. His mapping of Labrador influenced expeditions after him including that of Mina Hubbard in 1905.

Black-and-white portrait of a man standing in a photo studio.

Portrait of Albert Peter Low by William Topley, 1897. (a214276)

In 1903 and 1904, Low commanded two expeditions on the steamer Neptune up the west coast of Hudson Bay where he formally claimed possession of Southampton, Ellesmere, and adjacent islands for Canada. Low detailed his travels in Cruise of the Neptune (Report on the Dominion Government Expedition to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Islands on Board the D.G.S. Neptune 1903-1904). Much of his research was invaluable in the recording of Inuit culture in Quebec, Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Albert Peter Low fonds includes photographs, proclamations, and journals, two from a prospecting trip along the east coast of Hudson Bay, now known as the Inuit region of Nunavik, Quebec and one notebook written between 1901 and 1907. The notebook records 40 pages of the many tenses and corresponding suffixes of the verb “to love” in Inuktitut. In the photo below, we see a notebook page starting with the basic form “him, her or it loves.” He moves on to record, in lesser detail, the variations of the verb “to teach.” At the end he lists other transitive verbs, passive verbs, and adverbs, many related to Christianity.

A handwritten page of a notebook, recording Inuktitut vocabulary for the word “love.”

A page from the notebook kept by Low during his expeditions along the coast of Hudson Bay. (e011304604)

In 1886, Low married Isabella Cunningham and they had three children. Sadly, their first son died as an infant in 1898, and their second son died at age 19 during the Spanish Flu epidemic. Only their daughter Estelle, born in 1901, survived to adulthood and looked after her ailing father until his death in 1942. In 1943, she donated his collection to the Public Archives of Canada, which included Inuit art, mainly hunting scenes rendered in ivory. The collection was transferred to the Museum of Man (Canadian Museum of History) in 1962. Most of the works are miniature ivories created by Harry Teseuke, leader of the Aivilingmiut and Captain Comer’s mate. Comer’s ship, Era, wintered in Fullerton Harbour (near Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut) in 1903–1904. Low likely consulted with Teseuke who may have enlisted others to assist with Low’s research.

Although this journal is an extensive study of the sentence structure and grammar of Inuktitut, it also sheds light on Inuit culture. You’ll notice that verbs have no masculine or feminine forms or gender pronouns. This relates to the practice of naming children, as traditional Inuit names are unisex. And this is tied to the somewhat intricate practice of creating sauniq (namesake) relationships. For example, if a boy was named after a deceased woman with children, those children would address the boy as “my mother” or “my little mother” to acknowledge that special relationship. Bonds are often formed between people who are not related. It’s a lovely way of creating a strong sense of belonging and strengthening interconnectedness within a community. Inuit believe some of the unique characteristics of someone who has passed can live on in their namesake. Of course, love is the tie that binds these concepts.

Black-and-white photo of a ship surrounded by snow and ice, with people next to it building a snow shelter.

The expedition ship Neptune in its winter quarters at Cape Fullerton, Hudson Bay, Northwest Territories. (a053569)

I can’t help but wonder what Low’s fascination was with this particular word. With varied interests including geology, botany, photography, and hockey, he leaves the impression of an educated man with a curious mind. Was it curiosity alone that fed his hunger to know the nature of Inuit love? Despite the study of Inuktitut words related to Christianity, he was familiar with the Inuit traditional practice of polygamy. In Cruise of the Neptune, Low defends the custom, calling it a mistake for missionaries to attempt to abolish the practice. All of this paints a picture of a liberal-minded man and an early ally of Inuit. No personal writing or correspondence by Low has survived. Therefore, we will never truly know what inspired his fascination with Inuit culture and its many expressions of love.

Black-and-white photo of a woman sewing skin boots, while a child plays with her braids.

Rosie Iggi, also called Niakrok (left), and Kablu (right). Kablu is sewing kamiks (boots), and Niakrok is playing with Kablu’s braids. Photograph by Richard Harrington, 1950. (a147246)

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation content and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is a researcher for the We Are Here: Sharing Stories project at Library and Archives Canada.

The Story of the Canadian National Land Settlement Association

By Andrew Elliott

A century ago, on June 6, 1919, the Canadian National Railway Company (CN) was born. Its incorporation consolidated private and public railway systems into one public organization. The intention was for the new rail company to provide stable rail service to all parts of Canada. There are many aspects to the history of CN, and the vast and rich archival collection (nearly 16,000 containers of archival material, in the Canadian National Railways fonds) at Library and Archives Canada reflects this sprawl. The fonds, like the company itself, resembles a many-headed hydra. The myriad company functions reflected the perceived need for the company to be all things to all people.

To this archivist, one very interesting sub-section of CN was The Office of the Director of Colonization and Agriculture. For much of its existence from the early 1919 until 1963, this department was run by T.P. Devlin. In 1925, the Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration enacted regulations that remained in effect until 1951. These regulations stated that, where possible, immigrant land settlers from continental Europe should deposit money in trust with a government-approved land settlement agency.

Thus the Canadian National Land Settlement Association (CNLSA) was established on March 9, 1925, as part of CN’s program to promote immigration and land settlement in Canada. This both increased rail traffic and assisted the railway in disposing of some of its land grants. Over 27,000 immigrants were assisted by the CNLSA. Land was located and money released to immigrants to purchase land, equipment and livestock. This continued until 1963. As both the Colonization and Agriculture Department and the CNLSA were closely associated in this work, the CNLSA being virtually part of the Department, the records are often intermingled. It is also worth noting that the CNLSA competed with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s own association, the Canadian Colonization Association, which operated from 1923 onwards. Further information about this organization can be found at the Glenbow Museum and Archives.

Much of the administrative and operational records created by the Office of the Director of Colonization and Agriculture (and the CNLSA) help document CN’s efforts to obtain settlers, their placement on the land and their progress. These include reports, policy and correspondence files, files concerning individuals and organizations (usually identified by ethnic origins), community progress reports, settlement proposals, shipping files, relations with various governments, and copies of annual reports and other publications. Of particular interest are the specific immigrant files, which include an application questionnaire indicating the nationality, language, religion, age and family members; identification card; record of service for families, including name of the shipping line and ship used for passage to Canada; receipts; documentation of location of settlement in Canada; and various correspondence. In the 1920s and 1930s, many immigrants brought over to Canada were from Eastern Europe or Ukraine.

Since these records first arrived at LAC back in the 1960s, the way to search the collection has been through a 194-page paper finding aid (FA 30-39). Work is underway to make this finding aid available electronically. Additional efforts are underway to digitize portions of this vast collection (several hundred boxes of textual records, photographs, maps and technical drawings) in order to make it more accessible to researchers.

There are numerous CNLSA photographic reports, found in a sub-series attached to the main CN photograph collection. Additional records can be found here, in a new sub-series attached to the Department of Colonization and Agriculture series that document the settlement of immigrant families, particularly in Western Canada in the 1920s and 1930s. Many reports provide lists with interesting information, such as the following List of Immigrants Settled in Western Canada in 1934-35.

Typed list indicating the names, origins and location of settlement for some families directed by the Western offices.

List from report entitled Brief notes on the settlement of some of the families directed by the Western offices during the years 1934 and 1935, (e011000601)

Many European immigrants heading for farms in Western Canada stopped at the Winnipeg immigration sheds attached to the CN railway station, as seen in the photograph below.

Black and white photograph of a group of immigrants who had arrived at Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Immigrants from Central Europe arriving in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 1920s (c036148)

The CNLSA reports are invaluable resources for researchers who would wish to find out more about their ancestors and about farm settlement patterns. Since the censuses for the 1930s have not yet been released, the information provided in the CNSLA reports will be, for some years to come, the only information available as to where the immigrants came from and where they settled. Here are a few examples:

Page from an album with two black and white photographs; one of a family standing in front of a house surrounded by farmland, and the other a close-up of the same scene. Page also includes typed information about the family’s identity and their immigration details.

The Kretchnear family and farm. A German settlement. (e011000044)

Page from an album with two black and white photographs; one showing a family standing in front of a house and the other showing a team of horses pulling a plough. Photos are captioned with typed text.

German Romanian Settlement, the Mehle Family, 1928. (e011000523)

Page from an album with two black and white photographs; one showing a family standing in front of a house and the other showing a view of farmland. The photos are captioned with typed text.

Swiss Settlement, The Buff family in British Columbia, 1937 (e011000585)

Page from an album with two black and white photographs. One showing a team of horses pulling a plough, and the other shows a man standing with his team of horses. The photos are captioned with typed text.

Yugosalvian Setttlement, The Silobodec family in Saskatchewan, 1937 (e011000581)

Many of these photographic reports were recently digitized. There are plans in the coming years for a crowdsourcing project with LAC’s Co-Lab. As you can see, the CNLSA archival records are a treasure trove of information, particularly for Western Canadian farm settlement, and we are now only just starting to get a handle on what kind of information is available. Stay tuned for further updates.


Andrew Elliott is an archivist with the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development records: Estate files

By Rebecca Murray

When researching First Nations genealogy, estate files can be a valuable source of information. Estate files are held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) fonds, known as RG10.

What are estate files?

The Department, now known as Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada, continues to administer “the estates of deceased Indians” as per the Indian Act. The contents of estate files vary. These forms record vital information on the deceased, summaries of land and personal assets, summaries of debts, and vital information on heirs and next of kin.

The types of information found in these files can be very useful when conducting genealogical research. Before you begin researching, record the information you already have in a pedigree or family chart, both of which are available on our website. You can use any information you find in the estate files to fill in the blanks.

How do I identify estate files held at LAC?

The file title by the name of the deceased individual identifies estate titles held at LAC. Below are a few examples of complete references to estate files in our holdings:

RG10, 1996-97/816, box 91, file “Estate of Clifford Leonard – Kamloops,” 1928–1948.

RG10, volume 11266, file 37-2-8, “ESTATE NELSON, JOB,” 1928–1929.

2017-00390-5, box 4, file 411/37-2-179-48, part 1, “Estates – P. Meneweking – Spanish River,” 1946–1967.

These examples show the different title formats used by estate files. Researchers can search by family name, with or without the given name (first name). Sometimes the band name is included.

The department formerly known as DIAND has used various file classification systems throughout its history. The following file numbers indicate that a file is classified as an estate file:

Modified Duplex Numeric System (1950s–1980s): 37-2
Thousand Series: 16000
Block Numeric System: E5090

Aside from file classifications, this type of research is one of the few cases where searching by the name of an individual is the best method for identifying a relevant file. It is best to begin your search in our archival database, Archives Search. If you are unable to identify a file for an individual described in our database, do not worry. Many files are not described at the file level in our database.

To identify these files, try another search with keywords “estate” AND the name of the band or agency of the deceased individual. For example, complete a keyword search for “estate” AND “Sudbury” in two separate fields and submit. A long list of results can be filtered by hierarchical level on the left-hand side of the page; in this case, choose Accession.

One of the results, 2017-00390-5 “Estate Files of the Sudbury District Office,” 1900–1983, is an example of a set of 18 boxes of records comprised almost exclusively of estate files, with no descriptions at the file level. In these instances, check the Finding Aid section for information on how to access a file list. In this case, the finding aid (or file list) is not linked to the description, but it can be consulted in person at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, or you can write to us and ask that we check it for a specific name. Doing this extra step beyond the keyword search for the deceased individual’s name, and including your work in your written request, can help Reference Services staff triage and treat your request more efficiently.

How do I access estate files held at LAC?

You will find that access is restricted to most estate files held at LAC for privacy reasons. Please make an access request online. Some early files are open. Of those, some are available on digitized microfilm, for example: RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900, “CARADOC AGENCY – ESTATE OF THE LATE DOLLY NICHOLAS OF THE ONEIDA BAND,” 1897–1898.

If an open file is not available online, please request the original for Retrievals and Consultation.

A white page with black handwritten text.

The first of two pages of a letter from RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900 (e007575915)

A second white page with black handwritten text.

The second of two pages of a letter from RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900 (e007575916)

This information should help you to identify and access estate files held at LAC. To ask a question about estate files or on any other topic, please write to us!

________________________________________________

Rebecca Murray is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “Francis Mackey and the Halifax Explosion”

Our latest podcast episode is now available. Check out “Francis Mackey and the Halifax Explosion.”

A black and white photo of smoke rising over the Halifax harbour

A large smoke plume after the collision between the ships Mont Blanc and Imo, resulting in the Mont Blanc exploding in the Halifax Harbour (PA-138907)

On the morning of December 6th, 1917, Pilot Francis Mackey was guiding the French ship Mont Blanc into the Bedford Basin when, at the narrowest point of the harbour, it collided with the Norwegian ship Imo. The Mont Blanc, laden down with high explosives, caught fire and, about 20 minutes later, exploded.

The blast, which was the greatest man-made explosion until the invention of the first atomic bombs, levelled the Richmond district of Halifax, parts of Dartmouth, and wiped out the Mi’kmaq community of Turtle Grove.

On today’s episode, we talk with retired teacher and author Janet Maybee. Her book Aftershock: The Halifax Explosion and the Persecution of Pilot Francis Mackey attempts to clear Mackey’s name and restore honour to the Mackey family.

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

The Grey Fox: Legendary train robber and prison escapee Bill Miner

By Caitlin Webster

Nicknamed “The Grey Fox” and “The Gentleman Bandit,” Bill Miner was a legendary criminal on both sides of the Canada–U.S. border. Although he committed dozens of robberies and escaped from multiple prisons, many saw him as a generous folk hero who targeted exploitative corporations only. Library and Archives Canada holds many documents, publications, sound and video recordings, and other materials relating to Miner, and hundreds of these documents are now available on our website as a Co-Lab crowdsourcing challenge.

Newspaper page showing text, an illustration of two armed men on horseback approaching a train, a portrait of the author, and photographs of Bill Miner, Shorty Dunn and Lewis Colquhoun.

Article in The Province newspaper on January 18, 1958: “Bill Miner – last of the train robbers” (e011201062-019-v8)

 

Born Ezra Allan Miner on December 27, 1846, Miner began his criminal career as a teenager, stealing horses and robbing merchants in northern California. He later moved on to burglarizing homes and robbing stagecoaches in California and Colorado, where he and his accomplices often took away thousands of dollars in cash, gold dust, bonds and other goods. His polite, conversational manner during robberies earned him the nickname The Gentleman Bandit. Law enforcement eventually caught up with Miner, and despite multiple escape attempts, he spent decades behind bars in San Quentin State Prison.

When Miner was finally released in 1901, it was to an unfamiliar 20th-century American West. After trying his hand as an oyster farmer, he soon returned to a life of crime. As stagecoaches had been replaced by ever-expanding railroads, Miner turned to train robbery. He tried and failed twice to rob express trains in Oregon, and escaped across the border to settle in Princeton, British Columbia. There he established himself as a cattle trader and ranch hand, using the alias George Edwards. Known for his generosity, Miner was well liked in the small town.

By 1904, Miner had recruited new accomplices and was ready to target another train, this time in Canada. On September 10, along with partners Jake Terry and Shorty Dunn, The Grey Fox robbed a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Mission Junction, B.C. After taking thousands of dollars in cash, gold, bonds and securities, the bandits evaded capture for over a year and a half. Then on May 8, 1906, Miner, Dunn and a new accomplice named Louis Colquhoun held up a CPR train at Ducks (now Monte Creek), near Kamloops. However, this job was an abject disaster. The take was only $15.50, the men were forced to flee on foot, and they were captured five days later. Yet with his popularity in the area and the anti-CPR sentiment at the time, crowds of supporters greeted Miner as the Royal North-West Mounted Police brought him in to Kamloops.

On June 1, 1906, all three men were tried and convicted, and the next day Miner began his life sentence at the B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster. During his stay, Miner expressed no remorse, reportedly telling the visiting Reverend A.D.E. Owen, “I am what I am, and I have done what I have done, but I can look God and man in the face unashamed.” The same clergyman observed how Miner charmed fellow inmates and penitentiary staff, and warned the acting warden, “Old Bill is a man who is well worth watching.”

Two photographs of Bill Miner showing a front view and a profile view. They show Miner with his hair closely cut, and his mustache shaved.

Mug shot photographs of a shaven and shorn Bill Miner at the beginning of his sentence at the B.C. Penitentiary (e011201061-128-v8)

Form with physical description and criminal conviction details.

B.C. Penitentiary intake form for Bill Miner (e011201060-009-v8)

 

The warning was prophetic, as Miner escaped from the penitentiary on August 8, 1907. Guards and police searched the surrounding area, and then the wider Vancouver region, with no success. Rumours spread that he had received outside help to escape, in exchange for the return of bonds and securities he had stolen in the 1904 CPR robbery. In addition, newspapers reported high levels of public sympathy for Miner, with many expressing their wish that he never be recaptured.

Map on blue background, labelled to show general locations of penitentiary, asylum, and surrounding streets, park, and the Fraser River. Annotations indicate location of fence where Miner escaped, as well as other details of the local area.

Blueprint of B.C. Penitentiary site, showing location where Bill Miner escaped, as well as the surrounding area (e011201060-179-v8)

Poster showing photograph of Bill Miner, announcing a $500 reward for his recapture, listing details as to his escape, and describing his physical characteristics.

Reward notice for the recapture of Bill Miner, sent to police departments, publications and private detective agencies (e011201060-210-v8)

In the end, Miner returned to the United States and lived in Colorado until his money ran out. In 1911, he robbed a train in Georgia. He and his accomplices were caught within days, and at 64 years old, Miner was sentenced to 20 years in prison. After escaping in 1911 and 1912, Miner died in prison on September 2, 1913.

Library and Archives Canada holdings include records from the B.C. Penitentiary that provide fascinating details on Bill Miner and his escape from the prison. These documents are now available as a Co-Lab challenge, and include intake forms and mug shots of Miner, reports of prison officials, newspaper clippings, and letters from individuals claiming to have spotted The Grey Fox, even years after his death. Co-Lab is a crowdsourcing tool that invites the public to contribute transcription, translation, tags and description text. The public contributions then become metadata to improve our search tools and enhance everyone’s experience of the historical record.

 


Caitlin Webster is an archivist in the Vancouver office of the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

 

 

In their own words: Inmate publications of the British Columbia Penitentiary

By Olivia Cocking

In March 1951, inmates at the British Columbia Penitentiary in New Westminster, B.C. published the first edition of the penitentiary’s bimonthly magazine, Transition. Prison administrators promoted penal publications such as Transition during the 1950s and 1960s as part of a broader initiative to remodel the correctional system around a model of rehabilitation rather than punishment. With subscriptions offered for external readers at the rate of $1 annually, the editorial staff of Transition worked not only to keep inmates abreast of daily life at the penitentiary but also to establish a “feeling of understanding and faith” between prisoners and broader society.

Cover illustration showing an old-fashioned train engine and caboose, a railway station with a sign reading “Agassiz,” and a handcart containing mailbags labelled “BCP”

Front cover of the May–June 1961 issue of Transition magazine (e011311001)

Staffed by an editorial team of inmates and published at B.C. Penitentiary’s own print shop, Transition offered the penitentiary’s residents a chance to voice their views on a wide variety of subjects. Issues of the magazine featured editorials, articles of fiction and critical commentary, as well as coverage of prison sports and entertainment. Recurring columns included one on advice by a Dr. Larrup Loogan, called “What’s Your Beef?” and a section on prison affairs aimed primarily at the inmates, titled “The Inmate Speaks.” Holiday issues of Transition offered a particularly touching perspective, featuring seasonal greetings from inmates to friends and family, as well as reflections on the experience of the holiday season from inside the penitentiary. As one writer in the November–December 1959 issue noted poignantly, “high walls have a way of casting thick shadows across the laughter of a Christmas meant to be bright.”

Cover illustration with text “Merry Xmas,” showing two children in pyjamas facing a fireplace where Christmas stockings are hanging from the mantle.

Front cover of the November–December 1960 issue of Transition magazine (e011311002)

Publications like Transition often faced challenges in balancing the goal of providing an authentic outlet for inmates to express their views within the constraints of administrative censorship. However, given the realities of censorship, one of the most striking features of Transition is the frequency and depth of the critical analyses of criminal justice issues. Columnists discussed policy debates and offered personal perspectives on the effectiveness of Canadian strategies for prisoner rehabilitation. In Transition’s January–February 1959 issue, one columnist contended that Canadian efforts at rehabilitation had failed to live up to their goals, arguing that Canadian penitentiaries did “little but instill in the majority of inmates either a conscious or an unconscious desire to get even with society.” However, not all articles were equally disparaging. For example, a feature in the May–June 1961 issue detailed the positive contributions of B.C. Penitentiary’s blacksmith shop: “The inmate tradesmen in the BCP blacksmith shop are performing a public service that could be performed in no other way and by no one else. This is a fact in which these men can justifiably take pride.”

Cover illustration showing a man sitting at a desk writing a letter with his right hand and holding his head in his left hand, which also holds a lit cigarette.

Front cover of the September–October 1957 issue of Transition magazine  (e011311003)

Drug use and its treatment by the criminal justice system represented another frequent topic of debate among Transition’s columnists. The January–February 1959 issue features two contrasting opinions on the criminalization of drugs. One columnist argued that “the addict is a person who is mentally and morally incompetent” who could not be parted from his criminal tendencies by the legalization of drugs. The other contended that the social problems created by drug use lie in its criminalization, and not in the addicts themselves. As a result, he advocated the legalization of drugs as a government cost-saving measure and a remedy to the culture of criminality surrounding drugs.

Inmate columnists did not restrict their commentary to criminal justice issues. For example, the opening editorial of the 1961 Christmas edition sketches a pointed critique of voter apathy in Canadian elections. The editorial analysis presented by the columnists is especially effective when they highlight the eagerness with which their otherwise disenfranchised fellow inmates participate in Inmates Council elections. As they note, “Possibly they could set an example for the citizens and send forth emissaries to use a little rehabilitation on them.”

Back cover illustration showing a hand holding a cup containing signposts with various messages, such as “What Is A Convict?”, “Inside Looking Out”, “Rehabilitation?”, and “100 Year Failure!” A subscription form is included below the illustration.

Back cover of the January–February 1959 issue of Transition magazine (e011311004)

The vibrant discussion of criminal justice issues found in the pages of Transition reflects a broader debate taking place among policymakers during this period over how to best create an environment for the successful rehabilitation of inmates. This contentious atmosphere placed increasing strain on relationships of prison administrators and the penal press. By the mid-1960s, administrative, financial, and distribution support for penal publications decreased and censorship escalated, marking the decline of a Canadian penal press that catered to an external audience on any significant scale. As a result, issues of Transition published at the height of the magazine’s circulation during the 1950s and 1960s represent an invaluable resource, providing a unique look into the intellectual lives of inmates and an original perspective on criminal justice issues.


Olivia Cocking works at Library and Archives Canada’s Vancouver public service point as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP).

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “Songs of the Season”

Our latest podcast episode is now available. Check out “Songs of the Season.”

Library and Archives Canada has the largest collection of Canadian music in existence. There are over 250,000 sound and video recordings alone, not to mention huge collections of sheet music, printed scores, concert programs and books. Therefore, it goes without saying that LAC also has the largest collection of Christmas and holiday music as well.

Joining us today to talk about some of this Christmas and holiday music in LAC’s collection, is music archivist, and LAC co-choir leader, Joseph Trivers.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Governor General’s Literary Awards 2018

By Liane Belway

Each autumn at Library and Archives Canada, we celebrate the best in Canadian literature by supporting the Governor General’s Literary Awards. Begun in 1936 and administered by the Canada Council for the Arts since 1959, these awards showcase the best in the year’s literary publishing. (Conveniently just in time for holiday shopping, in case you are looking for a gift for the book lovers in your life.) Reflecting Canada’s rich literary diversity, the fourteen winners in two official languages and seven categories were announced on October 30.

Here are all the winners, in English and French.

Fiction

The Red Word by Sarah Henstra, published by ECW Press and distributed by Jaguar Books Group, ISBN 978-1-77041-424-2.

De synthèse by Karoline Georges, published by Éditions Alto and distributed by Diffusion Dimedia, ISBN 978-2-89694-349-4.

Poetry

Wayside Sang by Cecily Nicholson, published by Talonbooks and distributed by PGC Books/Raincoast, ISBN 978-1-77201-182-1.

La raison des fleurs by Michaël Trahan, published by Le Quartanier and distributed by Diffusion Dimedia, ISBN 978-2-89698-359-9.

Drama

Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom by Jordan Tannahill, published by Playwrights Canada Press and distributed by University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-1-77091-917-4.

Venir au monde by Anne-Marie Olivier, published by Atelier 10 and distributed by Flammarion/Socadis, ISBN 978-2-89759-303-2.

Non-fiction

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age by Darrel J. McLeod, published by Douglas & McIntyre and distributed by University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-1-77162-200-4.

Avant l’après : voyages à Cuba avec George Orwell by Frédérick Lavoie, published by La Peuplade and distributed by Diffusion Dimedia, ISBN 978-2-924519-75-2.

Young People’s Literature–Text

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier, published and distributed by Puffin Canada/Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers, ISBN 978-0-7352-6435-9.

Ferdinand F., 81 ans, chenille, by Mario Brassard, published by Soulières éditeur and distributed by Messageries ADP, ISBN 978-2-89607-413-6.

Young People’s Literature–Illustrated Books

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki, published by Groundwood Books and distributed by University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-1-77306-020-0.

Le chemin de la montagne by Marianne Dubuc, published by Comme des géants and distributed by Diffusion Dimedia, ISBN 978-2-924332-40-5.

Translation

Descent into Night, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, published by Mawenzi House Publishers and distributed by University of Toronto Press. It is a translation of Explication de la nuit by Edem Awumey, published by Les Éditions du Boréal, ISBN 978-1-988449-16-6.

Le Monde selon Barney, translated by Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagné, published by Les Éditions du Boréal and distributed by Diffusion Dimedia. It is a translation of Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler, published by Knopf Canada, ISBN 978-2-7646-2503-3.

Find out more:

https://ggbooks.ca/#winners

https://livresgg.ca/#gagnants

A wealth of great Canadian literature in both official languages is represented in the GG selections, so check out the winners at your local library or search in Voilà, Canada’s catalogue to find a lending library near you.


Liane Belway is a librarian in the Acquisitions section of Published Heritage at Library and Archives Canada.

Juvenilia in the archives: a reading of Jane Urquhart’s early works

By Sara Viinalass-Smith

Juvenilia is defined as works produced by an author while still young. Juvenilia can provide unique insights into a creator’s early influences and the evolution of their writing. For many reasons, researchers will unfortunately find that examples of juvenilia are not always present amongst an author’s papers. Over time, juvenilia might go missing, be discarded, or even destroyed.

Some famous examples of lost juvenilia include Ernest Hemingway’s early works. When Hemingway was 23, a suitcase full of his early drafts and their carbon copies was stolen at a train station. All that remained of his early works, then, were a couple of short stories, a poem and some carbon copies of articles he had written. In the case of Truman Capote, his lost juvenilia weren’t really lost at all. Upon his death, his papers were donated to the New York Public Library (NYPL). Amongst them were several short stories written by Capote in his teens and early 20s. In 2013, a researcher came across the stories, and in 2015 they were published in The Early Stories of Truman Capote (Random House) and hailed as newly discovered texts. However, the NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division was quick to make the distinction between “undiscovered” and “unpublished” in the media. While the stories had not necessarily ever been in print, they had been catalogued and were available to anyone wishing to consult Capote’s papers.

Though there are many reasons why early works might not find their way into the archives, Library and Archives Canada’s Literary Archives Collection is fortunate to include a variety of pieces of juvenilia. One very special example comes from the Jane Urquhart fonds.

The celebrated author of such works as The Underpainter and The Stone Carvers showed an early interest in creative pursuits. Urquhart (née Carter) was keen to experiment with different literary forms and studied acting from a young age. As a girl in the 1950s, she loved the books of Lucy Maud Montgomery, and adapted the novel Anne of Green Gables into a play.

A notebook with pencil handwriting of a dramatization of Anne of Green Gables.

A page from Jane Urquhart’s notebook titled “Anne of Green Gables” (e011202224)

Written in a blue Hilroy notebook, an elementary school mainstay for decades, Urquhart’s play opens with the familiar scene of Matthew Cuthbert and Anne Shirley in what Urquhart describes as a stage coach, on their way to Green Gables for the first time. While the script represents only a small portion of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel, the text illuminates Urquhart’s own early reading interests and writing style. Even at such a young age, Urquhart follows the conventions of scriptwriting by beginning with a setting description and designating dialogue to different speakers. She was perhaps familiar with how a script is formatted because of her interest in acting. Within a few years of drafting her adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, Urquhart was a member of an acting workshop under the direction of Canadian theatre pioneer Dora Mavor Moore.

What makes this example of juvenilia even more important is how it contributes to our understanding of the lasting influence of Lucy Maud Montgomery and her works on Urquhart. Montgomery’s novels continue to have a worldwide audience, even though more than a century has elapsed since the original publication of Anne of Green Gables. Like many girls and boys, Urquhart discovered Montgomery’s novels as a child. Urquhart, however, had the unique opportunity of reflecting on Montgomery and her works as an adult, formally encapsulating her feelings about the books and their author in a biography written for Penguin Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians series. L. M. Montgomery was published in 2009. In it, Urquhart examines Lucy Maud Montgomery, the writer and the woman. She describes the struggles of an author who achieves commercial success, but who is ignored by literary critics who dismiss her writing as sentimental and lowbrow—criticisms levelled at female Canadian authors such as Carol Shields even decades later. Perhaps the most personal section of the biography is the final chapter entitled, “Her Reader.” In it, Urquhart describes an 11-year-old girl’s discovery of Anne Shirley in the 1920s, an experience that provokes the desire to write herself. That young girl, Marian, grew up to be Jane Urquhart’s mother, and it was Marian’s own copy of Montgomery’s first novel that Urquhart read as a child, inspiring one of her very first literary efforts.

This example of juvenilia and others can be found in fonds within the Literary Archives Collection. To browse the collection, visit LAC’s website.


Sara Viinalas-Smith is a literary archivist (English language) in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division of Library and Archives Canada.